Athens, Pa., March 5, 1881.
TO WM. L. BEEBE – DEAR BROTHER: – I fear that you will consider me very troublesome in again addressing you, but I hope that you will forgive me for again encroaching on your time and patience; but I have a great desire to see your views on a portion of scripture which you will find in 1 Corinthians xii. 31. “But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.” There are many things which we are told not to covet. Please explain what the best gifts are, and the more excellent way.
I have felt very reluctant to trouble you again so soon, but there are others who wish it, and would be very glad to see your views in the SIGNS. May the Lord grant you much of his manifest present to comfort you in all your trials and afflictions, believing that they are among the all things that work for good to them who love God.
From your unworthy little sister,
MARY A. WATKINS.
Middletown, N. Y., April 2, 1881.
In endeavoring to comply with the request of sister Watkins, I feel to wish that the views presented may be regarded as strictly in accordance with the wish expressed, and no more importance attached to them than the thoughts of a fallible mortal should receive.
In the inspired record the truth is that which demands reverence and implicit confidence, while the words recorded are in the language of human intelligence, and must always be understood in such a sense as will not conflict with that same truth as presented in any other portion of the same record. Thus, the injunction in this text is not to be understood to conflict with the law which forbids to covet. While the avaricious desire for that which is not our own is strictly prohibited by the law of love in the kingdom of Christ, as it was by the typical law of a carnal commandment, as written on tables of stone, this does not prohibit the saints from earnestly desiring every good and perfect gift from God, which is for them treasured in Christ Jesus, the embodiment of the new covenant. These gifts our Lord received for men when he ascended up on high and led captivity captive; so that in coveting these gifts the saints do not violate the law of love, nor yet the letter of that law which was given by Moses. As all the blessings of the new covenant were given to the saints in Christ, in whom it pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell, in coveting earnestly those gifts they are clearly only manifesting the same spirit which is expressed in the manner of prayer taught the disciples in the sermon on the mount, “Thy will be done.”
It should be remembered that the inspired word is not given to the saints as a law over and afar from them, but that they have the spirit of Christ dwelling in them, and working in them the will to be conformed to all which is required of them. So that is fulfilled in them which was written by David in the 110th Psalm, “Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power.” They have all the “best gifts” provided for them in the covenant of grace, and this injunction in the text bears the like relation to those gifts, as the natural appetite of the babe to the provision in nature for its supply. “Wherefore, laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speaking, as new-born babes desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby; if so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” – 1 Peter ii. 1-3. And as “love is the fulfilling of the law,” (Rom. xiii. 10,) that desire for the best gifts, which is the result of love to the truth, cannot be at variance with the law.
In the organized body, or church, the same principle prevails, as in the individual experience of the saints. It is not that any gift from the Father of lights is to be accounted as undesirable; but the best gifts include all the gifts which Jesus Christ, when he ascended on high, received for men, including apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, with all the diversity of qualifications provided “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
Coveting the best gifts does not imply an invidious comparison between the saints, such as was reproved in the Corinthian church. – 1 Cor. iii. 3-5; 2 Cor. x. 12. The most able ministers, and even the apostles themselves, are not to be regarded as having any superiority in themselves over others. With all their eminent ability, none of the ministers of Christ can ever attain to such strength as to have any sufficiency of themselves; but the strongest must confess that his sufficiency is of God, who alone can make able ministers of the New Testament. – 2 Cor. iii. 5, 6. Hence it is manifest that the injunction under consideration cannot authorize that preference of men which is expressly condemned as carnal; but the gifts which are profitable to the church are spiritual endowments, such as are referred to and described throughout the chapter closing with the direction of which sister W. asks my views. There is no one of the gifts enumerated which the saints are forbidden to covet or desire; and in pursuance of that desire it is their privilege to ask in faith and in submission to the will of God, and as he will they shall receive according to the promise of the Lord. – Matt. vii. 7, 8. Whenever we ask and receive not, the evidence is that we have asked amiss. – James iv. 3. Carnal minds imagine they can by persistent importunity prevail upon the Lord to obey their will; but the spirit which is of God always asks that the will of God be done. And this prayer is always granted; though, as in the case of Elijah, it may involve in our view the loss of all sustenance for our natural life; or, as with Abraham, we may be called to surrender our only prospect for the fulfillment of our most cherished hope. – 1 Kings xvii; Genesis xxii. There is a vast difference between coveting or asking such spiritual gifts as in the wisdom of God are best for us, and assuming to dictate to the Lord what our carnal mind may choose. His choice of Jacob is in the furnace of affliction, and to his saints it is given to suffer for his sake. As they come down from him these are good and perfect gifts; but the natural mind could never covet them. Yet they are needful for the good of those to whom they are given. So that none of the griefs under which they groan could be withheld from the saints without loss to themselves.
The “more excellent way” is presented in the immediately following chapter, wherein that heavenly love which is of God is presented under the name of charity.
“This is the grace that lives and sings
When faith and hope shall cease;
‘Tis this shall strike our joyful strings
In the sweet realms of bliss.”
This is not presented as something different from the preceding expression in the text, but as a more full embodiment or expression of the injunction. As “perfect love casteth out fear,” which hath torment, so this most excellent fruit of the Spirit is the motive which actuates all true obedience. There is no evidence of the indwelling of the Spirit where this principle is not found; and where it dwells it will not fail to produce an earnest desire to walk in obedience to every injunction of the law of the Lord, of which the inspired directions of the apostles are only a transcript. Whatever we may think a duty from impressions in our own minds, must be without divine authority unless it is recorded in the record God has given; and any understanding of the scriptures inconsistent with the testimony of the spirit of Christ in our own experience may well be regarded as a misapprehension of the meaning of the written word. As the spirit of Christ abides with those who are his, they have the two witnesses of the truth to guide them in every step of their pilgrimage, the revelation of truth as given by inspiration of God, and the Spirit bearing witness with our spirit within, and taking of the things of Jesus, and showing unto us the exceeding great and precious promises, and the plain commandments which he has given for our guidance, encouragement and comfort. As the testimony of these witnesses is the truth as it is in Jesus, there is no discord between the record rightly understood and the experience of those who are led by the spirit of God, who shall lead us into all truth.
That the Lord may give us understanding in all things, and enable us to walk as children of the light, is my earnest desire for all who love his precious name, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
WM. L. BEEBE
Signs of the Times
Volume 49, No. 9.
May 1, 1881.